Fishing for Answers to World Hunger

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Fishing for Answers to World Hunger

For much of the world’s population, fish has become an important source of nutritious food and animal protein. In 2009:

  • 16.6 percent of the world population’s consumption of animal protein was made up of fish.
  • For 3 billion people, fish constituted 20 percent or more of their animal protein consumption.

Currently in the United States, per capita seafood consumption is at record levels and is bound to go higher. Recent USDA recommendations suggest the current U.S. fish consumption is only half of what it should be. But reaching the USDA recommendation could be problematic for one simple reason: The catches from fisheries globally, known as “capture fishing,” have been on the decline for two decades. Compounding the problem, this decline coincides with a growing world population that is already creating an increased demand for seafood.

It’s not just a declining global marine catch that is worrisome. The increasing percentage of over-exploited fish stocks, plus the fact that most species around the world have been fully exploited, concerns experts. A fully-exploited fish stock is one that is producing very near its maximum sustainable production, with little capacity for further growth.

The increase in over-exploited stocks has been the steady trend seen since the first assessment was made in 1974.1 At that time, over-exploited stocks were 10 percent of the total. By 1989, that number had risen to 26 percent. Since then, the percentage has risen at a slower rate, currently topping out at 29.9 percent. The problem is that this number is still rising rather than dropping. 

With a significant percentage of “capture fisheries” not operating beyond a sustainable production level, there’s just one viable answer: aquaculture. Also known as aquafarming, it is “the business of raising fish populations, both freshwater and saltwater, under controlled conditions.” Roughly 600 aquatic species are raised using this method, in about 190 countries. At 56.4 percent, freshwater fish aquaculture production is slightly larger than saltwater fish production.

This food-producing sector is already one of the fastest-growing, expanding by nearly 1,200 percent from 1980 to 2010 as it grew at an average annual rate of 8.8 percent.2 In 2010, world aquaculture production reached 60 million tons at an estimated value of $119 billion. As such, it supplied half of the seafood destined for human consumption — and it is projected to eclipse all “capture fishing” production within 20 years.3 In terms of labor productivity, aquaculture, with an output of 3...

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